Ian Rizzio was a 24-year-old mechanical engineering student in Portland, Ore., managing a sandwich shop to pay his tuition. One day he woke up sick but went to work anyway, as he later testified to the Portland City Council. After vomiting in the bathroom, Rizzio spent two hours trying — unsuccessfully — to reach his boss before going home to rest.
When Rizzio went to work the next day, he was fired. With $35,000 in student loans, he feared he'd have to withdraw from school.
Unfortunately, Rizzio is not the only American with such a story. More than 40 million Americans — disproportionately low-income, black and Latino workers — cook, clean, fold and ring us up without any paid time off when they or their children are ill. These workers must choose between their job and caring for a sick child. They handle our food and our purchases, coughing and sniffling through tissues, to avoid being handed a pink slip.
The absence of paid sick leave is a glaring injustice that puts Americans in the distinguished company of workers in Syria, Somalia and North Korea. It's an affront to our values and the dignity of a hard day's work. And it's a drag on our families, businesses and society.
For all the vibrant debate on work-life balance and encouraging women to "lean in" at their workplace, sometimes we need to make it easier for working women and men to stay home. After all, should catching a cold really cause you to wind up out in the cold?
Many businesses claim that paid sick leave is another burdensome regulation, part of some dastardly "mandate madness," but the truth is that paid sick leave keeps workers and businesses healthy. Employees who have sick leave are less likely to go to work sick. They're less likely to send their sick children to school or day care, where contagious kids can infect others. And they're less likely to wind up in the emergency room because they weren't able to visit a doctor during the day — leading to lower health-care costs for employers.